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In the 21st Century

Have a group event full of plugged in parents?
Book Mary Ellen to speak on Parenting in the 21st Century.

What is our job description?

Parents offer attachment based presence and leadership for three purposes:

Perspective & Wisdom

We have their long term best interests at heart

Protection & Advocacy

We have their back - defending their reputation, needs and desires

Belief & Hope

We give them the benefit of the doubt, when they struggle

Below are some areas of focus that I see come up in my practice and own life often, topics that need their own space and understanding to navigate with greater effectiveness.

Image by Kate Kalvach


There's nothing more important, and it doesn't look the way you may think.

Image by Artem Maltsev

Acceptance vs. Agreement

You can accept without agreeing.

Image by DDP

Intention vs. Impact

What you mean to do matters, what it actually does matters more.

Image by Wesley Tingey

Indulgence vs. Flexibility

Sharing power instead of building entitlement.

Image by Lacie Slezak

Assessment vs. Accussation

How to learn and understand, rather than reach a verdict.

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Hurt vs. Harm

The difference matters; how you respond to both does too.


Listening does not mean competing, contesting or interrupting, more specifically:  


  • Not interrupting (Wait, now what are you talking about exactly?)

  • Not criticizing the “facts” (I wasn’t there when that happened; that must have been your father. That didn’t actually happen.)

  • Not evaluating their thoughts (That doesn’t sound accurate or like something I would say. You often have bigger feelings than are warranted.)

  • Not feeling sorry for yourself (I never get it right, I guess I’m just a horrible parent)

  • Not sharing what their feelings and needs are making you feel and need (Your feedback is really upsetting and confusing. I need a break and will talk to you later.)

  • Not defending. (A Narcissist’s Prayer: That didn’t happen. And it if did, it wasn’t that bad. If it was, that’s not a big deal. And if it is, that’s not my fault. And if it was, I didn’t mean it. And if I did, you deserved it.)

Listening means accepting that someone was negatively impacted by you regardless of your intention. They express themselves to be accepted, not agreed with. They express themselves to assess their experiences not accuse you. 


I say this a lot to my clients: Feelings are the most irrefutable part of your dialogue. Feelings tell you what you need so you can arrive at a plan to meet the need in a way that respects what is felt. 


If there is blame and accusation (You always and never/you want me to suffer and hate me and never think I’m doing the right job or think that I’m worth it. I feel you don’t get it. I feel you aren’t listening.” The speaker needs to reframe. “I am harmed by the lack of attention this issue is getting. I feel unheard and unimportant. It’s starting to shake my confidence in you and whether I can trust you. I want this to work out but I need to see changes. 


Otherwise, here are some ideas of how to listen wisely and effectively:


  • Help me understand what happened that I missed?

  • What do you wish I had done differently then?

  • I heard you say_____. Did I get that right? Is there more you want to share?

  • What have you needed that hasn’t happened with me?

  • When we’re done having this conversation, what do you hope to feel? 

  • I’m glad you said something. I can imagine how hard it was to share this. Your thoughts mean a lot to me. What do you wish for at this point?


Intention vs. Impact

Intention is not for any of us to accuse in another. 

We as speakers define the impact, not the intention. The impact statement: “I felt ______, when _____ happened. I wish that _____ happened instead.”

Intention vs. Impact

Assessment vs. Accusation

Judgement has two components, but people use the word as if it had only one meaning. The two functions of judgement are assessment and accusation.

Assessment: I need to judge or assess the traffic flow to know when to merge with the highway traffic.

Accusation: You are not listening. You are not trying. You never care. You always give yourself more room than others.

Assessment vs. Accusation

Acceptance vs. Agreement

To accept the listener is to say, “I believe you and I’m sorry. I appreciate that it took courage to say this.” (The listener may not have any agreement, but they have expressed acceptance and that lowers tension and increases confidence exponentially.)


Acceptance is the core of connection. Agreement is gravy, and we have it with our best friends/partners. “I see it the same way, I have felt that way, too. I can imagine how hard all of this was.” 

Acceptance vs. Agreement

Indulgence vs. Flexibility

Indulgence is unearned privilege given to make the problem/guilt or frustration go away. 

Flexibility allows for an extension on the parameters or an amendment to the parameters of the agreement for the earned privilege.

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Indulgence vs. Flexibility

Hurt vs. Harm

Hurt is a challenge where someone goes on to achieve personal betterment by overcoming. 

Harm is demoralizing and results from powerlessness or a profound sense of worthlessness. 

Hurt vs. Harm

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For more resources, take a look at Parenting Teenagers or Recommended Reads for Parents

More Resources

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